The “New Normal” Surveillance System

On Friday in the Surveillance Systems second session, Hasan Elahi, an Assistant Professor of Art at the University of Maryland, presented a new approach to surveillance.  It was a welcoming idea that he had come up with through his experience.  Hasan had been questioned and monitored by the FBI after the events of 9/11 and he spent 6 months convincing the FBI that he indeed was not a terrorist.  Because of these events, he decided to create a program that monitors his location, using GPS, pictures and really any form of media.  This program allowed his every move to be processed by anyone without any surveillance needed.  His point?  Well he mainly it was about privacy.  Not fearing privacy to be exact.  Everyone likes their privacy to some standpoint, but why?  What is so special about privacy and why do people fear having things publicized?  This all was the focus of Hasan’s talk.


In the end, Hasan really wanted the public to adapt to his new theory.  No longer should their be fear in things being public, and no longer should surveillance be a tool used to threaten others.  Let’s “use surveillance to watch the watchers”, said Hasan.  He wants the public to turn surveillance into something that can benefit themselves.  The easiest way to do that, is as he argues, adopt to the new surveillance society that nothing is private.  Private and public are now obsolete.  Everything is public.  Somewhere, anywhere this is information stored.  Your messages, emails, photos, location, conversation, what you wear to work, what you had for dinner, it can all be accessed by someone somewhere and that means that essentially nothing is private.


After hearing about Hasan’s talk, he really got me thinking and I came to the clear conclusion that he was right, but maybe only to a point.  I think the more you think about it, it becomes clear that everything we say and do in today’s society is stored.  In a computer or in someone’s mind, it can all be remembered and leads to the conclusion that nothing is private.  If anyone wanted to, they could find everything about you without ever meeting you.  But what I think Hasan might be a little ahead on is his approach to garnering public support on his theory.  While it can be recognized that private doesn’t exist anymore, it is also recognized that everyone likes a little privacy.  This idea alone, unsettles Hasan’s theory and allows others to never really take it to heart.  It could be proven that there was no privacy, but would it take everyone publicizing everything about themselves for 10+ years to see that.  Do you need a hacker or someone to untangle what you had for dinner last night to believe that someone is always watching?  That would be my question.  Does everyone have to hear Hasan’s story to buy in or what will it take for surveillance, like privacy and publicity, to become obsolete.

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